This week’s Throwback Thursday is an edited piece from November 2017. It sent a chill down my spine thinking about how far I have come in that time, in writing through these changes in my life. So grateful that this blog has allowed an exploration toward the next part of my path.
As I was sitting in savasana today at my morning yoga class, a concept kept arising into consciousness. It was Integration.
I wonder if my search for balance and equilibrium is actually a search for integration. Bringing together my personal and professional lives, uniting my body, mind and spirit, accepting the positives and the negatives. It is all part of one rich and fulfilling life, after all.
Why do I find it challenging? Perhaps my scientific training works against me here. I strive to isolate variables, to design proper controls, to decrease “confounding factors.” It is a noble pursuit, when we want to understand a mechanism for a system.
I then consider another concept from a similar root: Integrity. These concepts both relate to a state of being whole. Stemming from a similar Latin root, these words express what I seek.
It is not so much about work/life balance, which always reminds me of a seesaw. It is more about bringing it all together, not having to isolate parts of myself in certain contexts, but rather bringing my whole self to every situation. I like the yin/yang concept, and the idea that we have complementary parts within us. I have written about this before. Perhaps that is what this blog is about, to integrate the “mexi” and the “minnesotana” parts more meaningfully, in every part of my life.
What if we viewed the entire natural sphere as an integrated whole, all part of some vast and intricate web? Everything, everyone and all of the in between is connected. We are not binary – one against another, us against them. We are all part of this vast universal story, ever changing, ever growing, ever recycling the parts that need to evolve to something new.
This brings so much peace to me, embracing both my darkness and my light. It means acceptance of what I am, where I am today in my journey, not chiding myself that I am not further along. Change unfolds gradually and when I “push” instead of allowing, it often sets me back. I am eager to know what is next, to see around the next corner. But I need not worry.
My soul works and plays at integrating. It seems to do this better without the fretting of my ego or mind. When I pay attention to the ease and the grace that comes from sitting still or small movements, I can feel integration physically. At the same time, I notice myself acting with greater integrity in the world. This feels like a true definition of success for me.
This Thursday I am re-posting an edited piece from January 2018 and is dedicated to Ruth Silva, a favorite yoga teacher who helped me practice the principle of noticing.
I learned about a beautiful approach to the skill of mindfulness that does not involve meditation through an On Being conversation with Ellen Langer. She is a social psychologist who defines mindfulness as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”
I really like this concept of mindfulness because it does not require any special training or meditation practice. It is something that is accessible to all of us. It also helps us understand what it means to “be in the moment” when so many of us have practiced being in our heads rather than truly noticing.
Last March I was on a trip for work in which I accidentally packed my phone in my carry-on luggage. Leaving from the airport at MSP, I had my coat on, but once I was in airport, I packed the coat in order to keep my hands more free. Immediately through security I realized I was missing a phone, and I searched frantically for it, fearing the disconnection of not having it with me for a trip to Mexico.
I typically use my phone to consume podcasts, read emails and occupy myself. One of my fears has always been getting bored. On long car trips with my family I used to pack a bag full of books, confident that would get me through the hours of travel.
This time though, I had no distractions to take with me on the trip. It seemed like the universe’s way to show me what I typically miss while I travel: interactions with actual people, and the many things I can learn when I notice, when I pay attention.
What I first noticed was that so few people make eye contact with one another while they are rushing through the airport. So many are looking down at the phones rather than engaging with people around them. I get this. I am an introvert, and contact with all these people can be a little overwhelming.
I sat myself down for a little people-watching, something I always enjoyed when young. It is a wonderful practice of noticing. One flight had just arrived, people were departing the gate, looking determined and hurrying along. An older gentleman in an old-fashioned cap was moving a little more slowly than some of the passengers. He looked around, feeling a bit lost perhaps, overwhelmed at the number of people all gathered around the terminal, the passengers rushing to their next destination.
As I noticed his bright blue eyes we made eye contact. I allowed my eyes to stay with his for a couple of moments, instead of averting them as we Minnesotans are taught to do. Of course I could not resist a smile for him, as I felt empathy for his search for connection, for people to simply notice he was there. I was rewarded by a smile from him. Other people looking down at their phones or preoccupied by other things on their travel had not noticed him, but I did, and he returned the acknowledgement.
During that flight I ended up having a marvelous conversation with a woman who was an author, just returning from a speaking tour. She told me she rarely talks with people on a plane. But she decided not to put her headphones on (as usual) but to have a conversation instead. As it turns out, I found out she had been a speaker for an event attended by my massage therapist. Small world.
After that incident, where I ended up feeling so peaceful and present without my phone, I resolved to spend more time like this. Instead of looking down and disengaging with the people around me, I take time to make eye contact, to smile, to be present. Many people find it startling when I make sustained eye contact. I notice many of them look away at first, and then look back. When they realize I am still looking at them and give them a smile, they often return the smile.
It is a small gesture, to notice the people around us. But we have a deep hunger for connection as humans. We may think we get this by staying connected, by having our phone in hand and instant communication at the push of a button. What is sacrificed by disconnecting with the people around us and directly in front of us?
I encourage you to do little experiments in noticing at home, in the halls at work, in the airports when you travel. See what you discover. I promise you, it will be fascinating.
How easily do you forgive yourself when you make a mistake or do something wrong?
I just finished reading Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life, and I found the premise fascinating. She believes that what we think about ourselves becomes the truth for us. What we give out, we get back. The only thing we are ever dealing with is a thought, and thoughts can be changed. We can change our attitude toward the past. To release the past, we must be willing to forgive. Also, she claims that “all dis-ease” comes from a state of unforgiveness.
She goes on to explain that forgiveness is not about condoning the behavior. It is just letting the whole things go. I agree that there are few advantages to holding resentment against someone for past actions. The past is over, and the more we time we spend on holding onto that resentment, the worse our health seems to be.
An article from Hopkins Medicine explains that unresolved conflict or chronic anger can put you in fight-or-flight mode, which results in changes in heart rate, blood pressure and the immune system. These changes increase risks of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions.
Forgiveness is an active process in which we make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not. Karen Swartz, M.D. director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, says forgiveness is a choice. “You are choosing to offer compassion and empathy to the person who wronged you.”
Even if the person never apologizes, and you simply resolve this by journaling or through your own reflection, by letting go of expectations, you will not feel disappointed. When you start to acknowledge the fact that nobody is perfect, and that the action probably had nothing to do with you, and rather is a reflection of the other person’s capacity (or lack thereof) for love, you can move on.
While it is not easy, forgiveness will help you heal and move on with your life. Sometimes talking with a therapist or a trusted friend to receive a “caring witness” to your pain can help. But at some point, then it is time to let the past go. Remember: you are not hurting the other person in refusing to forgive, you are only hurting yourself by carrying that negative energy into your future.
Love is always the answer to healing of any sort. And the pathway to love is forgiveness.
Give it a try and watch your overall health improve as you develop a regular practice of forgiveness. Check out “You Can Heal Your Life” if you want exercises and affirmations to support this process of letting go.
I confess that this is something I am still need to practice. I was taught very well to always be helpful. But I did not often ask for help. And it still takes me time to admit to myself when I need help, and to ask and receive it.
But asking for help can be a way to honor other people and allow them to connect with us in a meaningful way. Once I started thinking of it this way, it seemed that asking for help is actually like giving someone a gift.
When we ask for help we indicate that we trust and respect another person. We express our belief in their capability. Most of the time, people who can help us are happy to help us. Think about the last time you responded to a request. Did you feel good about helping? Most of us do. (Unless the request is unreasonable or feels imposed, but that is another scenario).
To me it can feel vulnerable to ask for help. I must admit I don’t have it all together, or I do not know something, or maybe I am not as organized as I want to be. But I am starting to get over this as I realize we all need help from time to time. There is no shame in it, and potentially we deepen the connections in our relationships.
Sometimes I worry that if I ask, a person will say no and reject the request. But surprisingly, if I ask sincerely and from a place of gratitude, more often than not, I receive help. It helps to be specific about the request and to always thank the giver.
I also learned that asking out loud is a better option than mentally projecting your requests to someone. This is truly OBVIOUS but I sometimes made the mistake of assuming others (like my husband) could read my mind and would know what I wanted. Nope. We use our words, and our out-loud voices for this. I realize not everyone here has grown up in passive-aggressive Minnesota where this tends not to be modeled.
Perhaps we want to stubbornly do things ourselves, and we feel a sense of failure if we ask for help. Perhaps we were taught that strong and capable people do not need help, or this is the message we absorbed in our youth. In any case, it is time let go of our fear and to embrace a new belief and a new practice!
Graciously asking for and receiving help is a practice that can enhance our relationships and allow us to focus on our strengths. If you are new to it, take it in stages, and start small. You may be surprised at what you discover and how much more capable you feel by inviting your community to be part of your success.
Next time you are struggling, know you are not alone. Use it as an invitation to ask a friend or loved one for what you need or want. Be brave, and be thankful. We do not have to go it alone.
This post is a re-blog of an original I wrote in December, 2017, with some editing. On Thursdays I aim to review and edit some previously shared content to give myself more practice on the editing side. Thanks for your patience as I build my skills and allow myself to re-examine some favorite themes.
After my peaceful and grateful post yesterday, I dove into a few blogs based on some recommendations by WordPress. I read about women as superheroes, and encountered some powerful writing about racism and privilege in America. It hit me pretty hard, but the point landed, this idea that white people of this country built their foundation on treating black people as sub-human.
It is difficult to talk about this, to acknowledge it and to understand what it is like to be cast as the “other” when we are part of the dominant culture. As a pale Latina, I pass as white every day. And yet, part of me strongly identifies with this Otherness. When Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in July 2016, I was in shock. This is not supposed to happen here, I thought.
But it happens everywhere. People are mistreated merely because of their darker skin or for their gender. Assumptions are made, and are reinforced. Political campaigns barely veil their “dog whistles” that appeal to the base, racist beliefs of their base.
There is a powerful dialogue from On Being with Krista Tippet, with Junot Diaz that keeps coming back to me on Radical Hope. One passage that keeps coming back to me as an empowering framework for re-considering how we view the body.
“I would remind us that, coming from a reality where our oppression was ineluctably linked to our bodies — that we had, for centuries, no rights to our bodies and that all of the traditional pleasures and all of the traditional freedoms of human agency were forbidden to those of us of African descent in the New World, for a long period of time — the body, in such a murderous regime, under such nightmarish conditions, becomes chapel, cathedral, dogma. It becomes nearly everything…
…for people like us, for people who come out of the African Diaspora in the New World, simply to fall in love, when you have historically been denied love, the right to just connect to the body which you have chosen and that has chosen you, means that an act of love is not only revolutionary, it’s not only transcendent, but it is the deific. It is Godlike. It is a taste of the omnipotent.”
I see parallels here in how slave ownership reflects a framework in which ownership of the body is central. It is a means of control and it is a means of denying basic humanity to people based on color.
I also see the ownership of body as a tool from a woman’s perspective and a feminist one. From our cultural lens, we have transcended a period when it was legal to own the bodies of African Americans. I also recently learned that early in our history, the practice of enslaving Native Americans occurred though was not explicitly legalized in the same way. (Listen to Hidden Brain’s “An American Secret” to learn more.)
Conceptually, I believe our patriarchy claims “ownership” of women’s bodies in a similar but more subtle way. Through creating laws to regulate women’s health, and their choices and ownership over their decisions about their bodies, we legalize yet another form of slavery. By judging appearance and “scoring” women on a scales of beauty or attractiveness, our media participate in this denigration of women’s bodies.
Recent disclosures of male authority figures using coercion and manipulation of women’s bodies against their will has shown the pervasiveness of this idea: women are routinely denied full access and ownership to their bodies. Women are “owned” and traded, consumed and marketed as commodities, products, objects that can be served up at will.
As I have come to a better relationship with my own body in my yoga and meditation practices, I now see how “radical” it is to reclaim our bodies. For those women (or men) who have endured assault or other violations of the body, there can be a numbness or a disassociation with parts of ourselves. Even for those of us who have not endured physical violence, the objectification of women’s bodies in so much of our daily media have taken their toll.
We disown parts of ourselves, perhaps our hunger, or our sexuality, as an attempt to distance ourselves from what is portrayed as dirty or distasteful. This is not a coincidence, nor is it a benign reality. Listening and attending to our bodies is a powerful tool. Disconnecting from the body separates us from our truth.
Churches that advise us to transcend the “carnal” and embrace the spiritual do us a disservice. For when we separate the body from the spirit or the soul, we disconnect what makes us whole as people. Sadly, this is more of a lived reality for women than for men in our current ethos.
What I would like to suggest is a radical and necessary step is for women to reclaim ownership of our bodies, in both real and symbolic ways. I see this not only as a personal and a wellness imperative, but as a political act. This is certainly not a new idea. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when the women’s liberation movement was at its height, this was certainly one of the goals.
Even my own personal weight struggle has been a process of coming to terms with loving and appreciating my own body. I recognize the ways in which I appropriated the body hatred that was rampant around me. It is a bad habit, this criticism of our body, diminishing the instrument of joy we have been given. But it is a habit that can be changed. Accepting and embracing our bodies and our feelings is a tool for empowerment. It is the place we must begin for full political and personal agency.
I asked myself this during the late afternoon when I noticed *hours* had slipped by this afternoon while I was working, and it was nearly past the time I usually leave. I suddenly realized it was a gorgeous Minnesota day, about 80F without humidity.
Immediately I realized I should not be lingering at work, and that my husband and I had the opportunity to spend time out on a lovely patio somewhere in the neighborhood. But this realization and choice came about when I considered my priorities, or rather my priority for that moment.
While I know work is important, my more important priority is my relationship with my husband. Other relationships are important too, and I reminded myself the other day to schedule some time with friends I have not yet seen this summer. We plan to see a play and spend time together next week.
Willy, my cat, just gave me a LOUD MEOW to indicate that HE is a priority too, and he did not appreciate my husband and I lingering over live music on the patio tonight. Okay buddy, point taken.
Relationships are an important priority in our lives. Several recent studies have touted the benefits of social relationships on one’s overall health status. This does not mean we are all good at prioritizing our relationships, however. I have struggled in the past with making time to nurture my friendships, sometimes getting wrapped up in personal projects or professional goals, and neglecting to reach out as often as I would like.
I start feeling “out of balance” when I do not get enough hubby time, or kitty time or time with good friends that make me laugh. There is something about spending time with people who love you, people you care about, and those who bring meaning to your life.
And if you feel lonely? Maybe you live far from friends, or do not have family in your area. Please reach out to someone to connect. Make an effort to form relationships that sustain you. If making new friends is difficult for you, realize that it can be difficult for all of us as adults. You are not alone in feeling like this.
But attempts to connect with others is almost always worth it. We may fear rejection, or believe others do not have much in common with us. But I believe it is a bigger risk NOT to connect, and not to allow ourselves to be a little vulnerable to build connection. Sure, they may reject us. But that is only a problem if we make it mean something about us. I like to think when people reject me, they don’t know what they are missing. 😉
It can be as easy as asking someone about themselves, and listening well. Or greeting someone with a smile and a friendly word can bring about a moment of connection, making us (and them) feel less alone, to feel seen and appreciated.
Human beings evolved as a social species. But we can feel lonely in our relationships sometimes, or we can feel lonely on our own. As an introvert, I enjoy being alone and seldom feel lonely. But even I have my limits in terms of “me time.” There is no substitute for being around people who accept me as I am. What a great gift. Let us not forget to be grateful for those kindred spirits when we find them, and to nurture and prioritize our relationships.
On Monday night, hubby and I opted out of a wet, windy camping experience and booked a B&B in De Smet, South Dakota. Sunday night we’d spent the night in an AirBnB basement that was basically a retirement community (9 units) on the main floor. It was better than a wet camp site, for sure. The hosts treated us so kindly, they even washed and dried our clothing while we were at dinner. I had asked if we could borrow a clothes dryer, but their hospitality went beyond that.
The actual B&B was a different experience. One of the owners arrived an hour after our scheduled check in time and began telling us how difficult her life is, and how hard it is to have a B&B and another rental property. Her sad story implied we were a burden rather than welcome guests.
In the morning, the kitchen area was locked, so I went across the street to buy coffee. Two other sets of guests were present at breakfast, but she barely interacted with any of us. It was odd, and I believe she must be going through a difficult time in her life. My husband suggested she probably needs anti-depressants.
That might be true. I kept trying to maintain my attitude of kindness and compassion, but I have to admit, it was hard. When people receive money for you to stay with them, while I don’t expect excessive gratitude, I do expect not to be treated as a burden. We had found 3-4 AirBnB options the night before that were cheaper and would probably have worked fine for us.
I had opted to “splurge” on a real B&B because I figured we would at least get a decent breakfast. Well, it was a passable breakfast. At least the room was cozy and clean. The bathroom was also clean. I will say that.
The moral of the story: whatever attitude you project out into the world is likely to be reflected back at you. It’s not to say that every interaction is a reflection of your own behavior. But when your interactions imply that others are a burden, they will not want to return. It’s certainly no way to run a hospitality business. A bit of gratitude goes a LONG way.